Reviewed by Johan Kruger (SAFOLs Member, jhbLUG Member)
I fondly remember the year 1993 and 1995, because in my opinion, the two greatest LEGO® series came out and this is of course “Ice planet 2002” and the “Aquanauts Series”. Maybe it was the great colour pallet that was used, but they captured my imagination or sense of exploration.
This review will focus on the Aquazone series.
Firstly, there was a great TV advert, so for those who missed it here it is:
The first, and best wave of the Aquazone theme had two faction competing in deep sea mining operations of so-called Hydrolator Crystals. The Aquanauts were the good guys with yellow/black scheme, transparent parts in dark blue. The bad guys were called the Aquasharks with black/blue color scheme with transparent neon orange pieces with shark teeth and eyes prints on them, this most likely the best part of the series.
As far as minifigure design goes there were only 3 good guy variants and 2 bad guys. They did not have the best torso or face printing but could be equipped with scuba gear featuring two different face shield colors for the Aquanauts and red and black for the Aquasharks. They have great small details and a clip for the chromed knives or spears. The only one minifig with a name was the chief of the bad guys, Thresher with his hooked trans green arm. They also had diving fins in either blue or black
Another stand out feature was the use of a real LEGO® compass and it does work mostly pointing in the right direction. This come in 3 of the bigger sets but just really reinforced the exploration sense of the series.
Now back to the rest of the LEGO® parts, for a start there is no stickers to be found anywhere, stickers used today can add a lot of details to a set but back then all the details had to be done with bricks and a small collection of printed parts. Outside the amazing printed trans clear orange parts there was also great flexible arms that could lift the crystal containment units using magnets similar to those used in earlier train sets to connect wagons. The crystals themselves were also chromed and this is such a great effect not used in today’s sets. The series had a number of very interesting parts including 2×4 Side SNOT bricks (6061) , hexagonal cylinders (6043,6037), with SNOT sides (6042), old style finger hinges(4275,4531), a small spring loaded Technic brick (2605c01), Modified Facet bricks in blue and yellow (2463), Hinge Window Frame 1 x 4 x 3 with Octagonal Panel (2443) and Propeller Housing (6040). Actually there is a lot more but can’t just talk about parts.
The instructions for some was only one paper folded up but what made it cool was the back page full of Pirates or Castle sets that would lead to envy to own them as well.
The instructions for others has a few pages at least, but I just have to pause on the excellent cover page art. These feature hand drawn backdrops which
just make you want to dig into the sets . For more reading on this, I found a small post by the art director of the series just called Faber (http://faberfiles.blogspot.com/2014/03/aquazone-my-art-direction-debut-on-LEGO®.html). The instructions were also not like today and did not really highlight what parts was needed for a step or what was added. A lot of time was spend playing spot the difference between the steps. This is something I do kind of miss and was part of the experience. No hand holding here…
Small (1749,6125 and 6115)
Lets start with the smallest sets. The biggest only having 35 parts which is small by today’s standard of small sets, yet they still have character. All of them had one minifigure. The range was Shark Scout (6115), Paravane (1749) and Sea Sprint 9 (6125)
Medium (6135 and 6145)
These had up to 88 parts, which is still actually not that many, but with big wheels and the printed screens they do look a bit bigger. This range was Spy Shark (6135) and Crystal Crawler (6145 or 1728 who knows??) Again, both sets only had one minifigure and one small plant element. Set 6145 featured the great Technic mechanism(2605c01) to lock the arms in one of two positions
Large (6155, 6190, 6175,1822 and 6195)
Deep Sea Predator (6155) is the smallest of the large sets. This set had one minifigure, one plant and one shark outside of the submarine. This was the most streamlined of the Aquasharks and really looked menacing. With both the front and rear printed parts, it looked like it could glide through the water at great speed (and steel all those crystals). The rear compartment also had place to store the container. Strange to think this set also still only had 95 parts.
Crystal Explorer Sub (6175) was the biggest of the Aquanauts stand alone subs and as the name suggests, this was an explorer sub to look for crystals but also collect and bring them to the Neptune discovery lab. This set only featured the sub, two minifigures, one plant and a black octopus. It has 152 parts and featured a yellow and trans blue color scheme and looked exactly like something Jacques Cousteau would use to explore the sea. If you think of yellow research submarines, the earliest picture that comes to my mind is the yellow diving saucer used in documentaries by Jacques Cousteau. They were yellow as this color is clearly visible over great distance under water.
Shark’s Crystal Cave (6190) was the biggest of the Aquashark sets. This set features the base with shark cage and the big submarine. This sub had a smaller sea glider hidden within it as well as two minifigures, two plants and a shark. But one of the stand out features was a classic space crater baseplate but in the Aquanaut’s color scheme with craters but in black and dark blue print. The base has a place for the sub to launch from and this also doubles as a cage to keep sharks or good guy Aquanauts. The set has 244 parts and most of these goes into the submarine. The striking use of the trans clear orange, black and blue color create a beautiful looking set along with the brick fins it really drives the underwater theme home. Without asking it is clear this is the bad guy vehicle with one intent and that is to steal crystals.
Sea Claw 7 / Neptune III (1822) is the only set that I don’t own. It seems like it had late release and wasn’t part of the initial wave of sets. This set almost looks like it was designed by a different person. It features a large claw that uses a rubber band and also had a small deploy-able sea glider.
Neptune Discovery Lab (6195) was the biggest of the sets from this series with 480 parts and two big raised blue base plates. The set had three minifigures, a few plants, a black octopus, a small mobile sub and the big undersea base called the Neptune lab.
Let’s start with the small submarine. This again had the yellow and trans blue color scheme. It featured a big rear compartment to store all sorts of things. This could be a whole heap of containers with crystals or anything that the explorer finds under the sea. Again the sub had two mechanical arms one with a claw and one with a magnet attachment to pick up crystal containers.
The base itself has a truly impressive size. The raised printed baseplates are extremely well used here. With these types of baseplates now out of favor by LEGO® and mostly being replaced with brick-built landscapes, this one really has a soft spot in my heart. The prints really add to the character and with the addition of a few more plants this could maybe even in future find a place in one of my MOCs.
The base is made of 3 main parts.
The front refueling skid, for oxygen or fuel. The main processing plant at the back and a small control tower to the right. The main base had a Technic mechanism with a chain belt to move crystals either to a container right or to the plant to the left. The chain was moved by a round knock at the back and really added to the play-ability of the set.
On top it featured a crane that can lift the crystals from submarines to the conveyor belt entrance. Moving them left they would go to a stop small collector bin on a 4×4 hinge plate. This can then be dropped to the small space behind the yellow bar grille. The rear of the base has two very large 10x6x11 trans dark blue panels that led light into the main building. This building is assessable via two smaller minifig size entrances at the side of the building with one even having a keypad to enter the right code to get in.
The front of the building also feature two big 1x9x11 trans dark blue doors that can open to reveal the inside of the base.
The huge box itself was also a marvel of that era, with a front cover that lifted to reveal key big parts from the set, including the base plates. The top panel had further pictures of the set to complement the front and rear of the box.
Note that some smaller modern sea creatures sneaked into the review and wasn’t part of the set. These were mostly thanks to my co-reviewer but these sets still capture the imagination of my six year old just proving how timeless the design is.
PS. There were other waves of aquanauts sets but they just lost the nostalgia and even color scheme of the first wave. There were also the semi OK Atlantis sets of 2010. But at least I think this series led to the excellent City diver’s series 1997 and the newest deep-sea explorers (2015 and 2020) although I do wish they would bring them back one day…..